Although more skid-steer buyers today are opting for larger models, smaller machines still have their place
An estimated 56,000 skid-steer loaders will be sold in the U.S. equipment market this year, and models with a rated operating capacity (ROC) in the range of 1,751 to 2,200 pounds are most in demand. (ROC typically is calculated at 50 percent of tipping load). Although the rising popularity of this size category is coming at the expense of smaller-model sales, smaller machines, with ROC numbers of 1,600 pounds or less, still account for about 30 percent of the market. As one manufacturer puts it, these smaller models remain "very potent machines" in applications where compact size, easy transport and affordability count.
So as not to mislead, allow us to quickly break down the 30-percent figure noted above. Models in the 1,600-to-1,351-pound category make up an estimated 19 percent of that figure, and those in the range of 1,350-to-1,251 pounds account for another 7 percent. Even though models in the three lowest categories (1,250-to-976, 975-to-701 and less-than-700 pounds) make up only 4 to 5 percent of the market, that still could account for sales approaching 3,000 units this year.
Of course, just like their larger counterparts, these less-than-1,601-pound machines handle a wide selection of attachments. In fact, 10 of the 29 models we identified in this size range are available with a high-flow auxiliary-hydraulic system, which can handle serious attachments, such as hydraulic hammers, cold planers, and snow blowers.
Most attachments for any size skid-steer are hydraulically powered, of course, but the experts say to pay close attention to a tool's hydraulic requirements (flow and pressure), especially when matching it to a smaller machine. Don't use attachments, they say, that require more hydraulic horsepower than your machine can deliver. Or, conversely, make sure your new machine has the hydraulic horsepower to efficiently operate the attachments you plan to use. Typically, a powered attachment is built to accommodate a range of flows and pressures, which broadens its application. (Note the "Calculating Hydraulic Horsepower" sidebar.)
If you already own skid-steers and may be adding a smaller unit for work such as interior demolition or residential construction, you may already have attachments (sized for larger machines) that would be handy to use on the new model. Assuming hydraulic compatibility, remember that the weight of the attachment could be a concern.
Although the best advice is not to use attachments with weights exceeding the machine's ROC, some skid-steer manufacturers say that heavier tools may be permissible in certain situations if they are consistently used (and transported) at a low height. They caution, though, that heavy tools may impede the machine's ability to counter-rotate in soft soil.
Among skid-steer manufacturers, fortunately, the design refinement reflected in particular models has little to do with machine size. For the most part, features available on big skid-steers are present also on smaller units, except, perhaps, for air conditioning on the smallest of the small.
At the top of the refinement list is operator comfort, convenience and safety. Overall, compared to predecessor models, the operator's compartment of today's smaller skid-steer is quieter, thanks to innovations such as hydraulically driven cooling fans, and has greater interior volume to more comfortably accommodate boots, elbows and hats. The compartment generally provides better visibility, too—the result of configuring cabs with fewer impediments to good sight lines and, in some instance, by rethinking the shape of lift arms.
And right at the center of many of these ergonomic cabs is the availability of suspension seats, which go a long way toward smoothing the ride of short-wheelbase models. In addition, low-effort, pilot- or servo-operated controls are designed to significantly reduce operator fatigue. Buyers typically will find a variety of available steering- and loader-control systems on today's models, allowing operator preferences to be accommodated.
For further operator convenience, the control levers also may incorporate integral switches for such functions as auxiliary hydraulics and speed-range selection. (Two-speed travel is another feature often available). Auxiliary-hydraulic controls may permit the operator either to meter flow to attachments for more precise tool movement, or to lock the system in a continuous-flow mode. Proportional (metering) control systems are optional in some instances, but worthwhile when more exact attachment control is desired.
Among other design refinements making today's skid-steers better than ever are anti-stall systems, cab electronics and enhanced serviceability. Anti-stall systems help keep the engine running in tough loading situations by automatically reducing pressure in the hydrostatic drive system. Cab electronics include interlock systems for operator safety, theft-prevention systems, digital instrumentation and even electronic tutorials on attachment use. Serviceability gains include big doors and hoods for wide-open access to service points, tilt cabs for exposing drive- and hydraulic-system components, extended service intervals and, for some models, the use of a common oil in the engine, hydraulic system and chain case.
If you're looking for a new skid-steer with compact size or an appealing price tag, you'll likely be impressed by the refinement of these smaller models.
|Average Skid-Steer Costs|
|Capacity (lb.)||Avg. List Price||Hourly Cost|
|1,600 to 1,351||$22,600||$23|
|1,350 to 1,251||$20,500||$22|
|1,250 to 976||$17,650||$18|
|975 to 701||$16,000||$17|
|700 & less||$14,500||$16|
|Source: EquipmentWatch.com, phone: 800/669-3282|
|Model||Std. ROC (lb.)||Opt. ROC**(lb.)||Hinge-Pin Height (in.)***||Std. Operating Weight (lb.)||HP (Net)|
|* Vertical-lift loader path|
|*** Boom fully raised|
|** With weight kit|
|**** Optional turbo-diesel|
|+High-flow hydraulics available|
|Gehl 4640+||1,500||1,650||115.5||6,200||46 / 60****|
|Komatsu SK815-5+||1,550||1,750||115.0||5,785||47 / 54****|
|New Holland LS140*||1,250||1,400||111.0||4,395||30|
|New Holland LS150*||1,350||1,500||114.3||4,500||36|
|New Holland LS160*||1,500||1,650||115.1||5,534||44|